TV column for Saturday, May 20


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
'”The Wizard of Lies,” 8 p.m., HBO.

Here is the ideal
combination – a great American actor playing a consummate American
villain.

Bernie Madoff was a
popular figure in business and charity, with people begging him to
handle their investments. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme, with
friends and charities losing billions. Robert De Niro – back to
drama, after years of comedy-- stars, wtih Michelle Pfeiffer as his
wife. Barry Levinson, an Oscar-winner for “Rain Man,” directed.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Saturday Night Live” season-finale, 11:29 p.m., NBC.

A huge ratings
season for “SNL” wraps up with some double starpower.

Hosting is Dwayne
Johnson, once dismissed as a wrestler named The Rock, but now a movie
star whose “Baywatch” reaches theaters May 25. Katy Perry is the
music guest.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Training Day” finale, 9 p.m., CBS.

This started with
strong prospects. It had a likable star (Bill Paxton), a familiar
title (adapted loosely from the 2001 movie) and a comfortable
timeslot after CBS' Thursday comedies. But ratings crashed and the
show was exiled to Saturdays; after filming the 13 episodes, Paxton
died at 61.

Now we can say
goodbye to the star (who also has a good supporting role in the
current movie “The Circle”) and to the show. Probing the long-ago
murder of Kyle's father, Frank (Paxton) has been captured in Mexico.
Kyle (Justin Cornwell), Tommy and Rebecca try to rescue him.

Other choices
include:

Sports, 7 p.m. ET,
Fox and NBC. It's baseball on Fox and hockey on NBC, with the
Predators and the Ducks. Aren't predators usually quite rude to
ducks?

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, a SEAL candidate has been killed
before graduation; the team probes the unorthodox training he faced.
Also, Dr. Wade frets when her adopted son Danny plans to join the
Navy.

“American
Housewife,” 8 p.m., ABC . This reruns sees Taylor quitting school
activities. Now her mom is supposed to set a good example by studying
French and sticking with it.

“12 Monkeys,”
8-11 p.m., Syfy. Here's the mid-section of a grand experiment – an
entire, 10-episode season, wedged into one weekend. Four episodes
aired Friday, with three each today and Sunday. That adds up to the
third of four seasons of a high-stakes, time-travel tale.

“Downward Dog,”
8:30, ABC. If you missed the debut Wednesday, catch this quick rerun.
It views a young woman's hectic life at work and in romance ... often
with droll narration from her dog. Allison Tolman, who was so good in
the first “Fargo” series, stars, with Lucas Neff as her
maybe-boyfriend.

“Diary of a Wimpy
Kid” (2010), 9 p.m., Disney. On the day after its sequel reached
theaters, here's a comedy about middle-school woes. If families
prefer something animated (and earlier), there's a Freeform marathon
-- “Hercules” (1997) at 2:35 p.m., “Tarzan” (1999) at 4:40,
“Monsters, Inc.” (2001) at 6:45 and “Monsters University”
(2013) at 8:55.

“MasterChef
Junior,” 11 p.m., Fox. Here's the first half of the finale. The
four young chefs deal with something they're familiar with
(chocolate); then one has something totally new to her – goat.

TV column for Friday, May 19


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Masters,” 9 p.m., PBS.

James Beard was born
in 1903, in a world that considered “American cuisine” an
oxymoron. Americans were supposed to envy and emulate Europeans. But
he had a mother who scoured the Oregon farm markets; he grew up
championing all kinds of food, especially from local sources.

Beard hosted a
primitive TV show, wrote 22 books, ran a cooking school out of his
townhouse ... and talked endlessly. A giant (6-foot-3, often over 300
pounds), he turned life into a food chat-room ... and, friends say,
never paid for anything. Here's a great profile, followed by a 10
p.m. rerun on Julia Child.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“The Toy Box” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

For six weeks, we've
seen inventors bring their ideas to toy experts and – if they're
lucky – to a panel of kids. Mostly, the inventors have been likable
and their ideas have been pretty good.

Now we get one last
batch of prospects, from a hugable bug with recorded messages to a
card game that requires silly voices. It's a pretty good episode and
it thrusts one winner into the 9 p.m. hour. That's when it competes
with the other six winners, with only one going to stores.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “'I Love Lucy' Superstar Special,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Two 62-year-old
episodes are given new life, thanks to computer-added color.

Both center on
Lucy's claim that she's met lots of Hollywood stars. Now a
friend/rival visits. In the first episode, Lucy fakes a friendship
with Van Johnson; in the second, she hides the friend's glasses and
impersonates Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante and Harpo Marx ... until the
real Harpo arrives.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “12 Monkeys,” 8-11 p.m., Syfy.

Here is a bold
experiment – a 10 episode season, packed into one weekend. Tonight
has four episodes (8, 8:45, 9:31 and 10:15 p.m.), with little room
for commercials; Saturday and Sunday have three each.

James Cole has
arrived from the future, linking with Dr. Cassandra Railly to try to
prevent a fierce virus. There's a splashy guest role for Christopher
Lloyd; James Callis of “Battlestar Galactica” also guests and
Emily Hampshire – who's been superb as a troubled genius – is
back.

Other choices
include:

“Maid in
Manhattan” (2002), 8-10 p.m., Fox. For no particular reason –
except Jennifer Lopez's stardom – Fox dusts off a movie that was
merely OK 15 years ago. Lopez is a maid in a mix-up romance with a
rich guy (Ralph Fiennes); Tyler Posey (“Teen Wolf”) plays her
son.

“Undercover Boss”
season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS. Marcus Samuelsson has started
restaurants, written cookbooks and won two TV competitions. Now he
dons a disguise and scouts for aspiring chefs at classes and at
settings ranging from a soup kitchen to a high-end food truck and a
culinary institute.

“The Originals,”
8 p.m., CW. Vincent joins Haley and Freya, in a desperate effort to
stop The Hollow.

“Reign,” 9 p.m.,
CW. Darnley and John Knox launch a plan to strip Mary of her throne,
leaving a close friend of hers dead.

“Brave” (2012),
Disney; or “Ice Age” (2002), Nickelodeon, both 9 p.m. Two
animated hits start at a time when some kids go to bed. Some
grown-ups might prefer the entertaining “The Nice Guys” (2016) at
8 p.m. on HBO or two 1967 gems on Turner Classic Movies. Don't expect
any happy endings, but “Cool Hand Luke” (8 p.m. ET) and “Bonnie
and Clyde” (10:15) are beautifully crafted.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”) plays a community
activist who isn't a citizen; Erin tries to prevent her deportation.

TV column for Thursday, May 18


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
(or record): “The Blacklist” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., NBC.

Two TV powerhouses
collide, as the official season (which ends next Wednesday) begins
its final week. It's “The Blacklist” vs. ABC's “Scandal,”
each with a two-episode finale.

For “Blacklist,”
the elusive “Mr. Kaplan” has been trying to destroy Red's
criminal empire. It turns out that “Kaplan” is a woman who was
Liz's nanny and, later, Red's employee. In tonight first episode,
she uses a high-end thief – played by Aldis Hodge, the
“Underground” star and “Leverage” co-star – for a
mysterious assignment; in the second, she launches the final stage of
her assault.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
(or record) II: “Scandal” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC.

Brief and bizarre,
this 16-episode season concludes. The president-elect was killed and
the vice-president-elect was imprisoned for engineering the
assassination. All of that happened before the electoral college had
met, so their opponent, Mellie Grant, has been named president.

Now Mellie prepares
to take power as Olivia protects her. Also, the current president –
Mellie's ex-husband, Olivia's sometimes-lover – has some last-minue
surprises.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “MasterChef Junior” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

There's a
Southern-cooking feel to this final-four match-up. It has two
11-year-old Georgia girls (one whose cooking also reflects her
Jamaican roots) and a big, booming Texas guy, 13. The lone Northerner
is 12, from Sacramento, and known as the technician in the group.

Now they face
challenges that are familiar – Shayne Weeks is giddy about a
cascade of chocolate – and not. “I've never cooked – or eaten –
goat,” Jasmine Stewart says. She must do that now – for Martha
Stewart, Wolfgang Puck and more. It's tough, but these kids tackle
such things with skill and glee.

Other choices
include:

“Alien” (1979),
5:30 p.m. ET, IFC. A night of fantasy action starts with this film
and (at 8 p.m. ET), it's brilliant sequel (1986). Also, comic-book
characters face-off at 8, with DC's “Suicide Squad” (2016) on HBO
and Marvel's “Thor” (2011) on FX, rerunning at 10:30..

“Love on the Air”
(2015), 7-9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. A cut above other
films on the Hallmark channels, this has a sharp script, a talented
director (Kristoffer Tabori) and an excellent cast. Alison Sweeney
and Jonathan Scarfe duel on their radio show and in their lives.

“The House Bunny”
(2008), 7:20 p.m., Starz. We'll miss Anna Faris and Colin Hanks,
whose “Mom” and “Life in Pieces” have the night off. Not to
worry; they're in this tale of a former Playboy bunny.

“Supernatural”
season-finale, 8 and 9 p.m., CW. In the first hour, the fight between
the American Hunters and the British Hunters peaks. In the second,
Lucifer – the mean CW one, not the funny Fox one – tries for
control of his unborn child; Sam, Dean and Castiel resist.

“Grey's Anatomy”
season-finale, 8 p.m., ABC. When a dangerous patient escapes, all of
the doctors are at risk. Meanwhile, Meredith's news for Nathan brings
things to a turning point.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. The summer-rerun season has begun for TV's
best comedy. Tonight, Penny gets mad at Leonard and heads to a spa
with Amy.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. It's an abbreviated comedy night, with
just two reruns, Jack's colleagues find his stash of old items. They
plan a party about the '90s ... when they were pre-schoolers.

“The Amazing
Race,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. The five remaining duos ae now in
Vietnam – a place where their elders rarely went for fun. In Hanoi,
one racer is paralyzed by the idea of bungee-jumping.

TV column for Wednesday, May 17


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Downward Dog” debut, 9:31 p.m., ABC.

Nan knows her life
is flawed. She has a bad boss, an unsatisying job and a guy she
intermittently breaks up with. But this seems different when narrated
by her dog Martin ... who loves her pity parties. “Downward” is
sometimes as somber as Martin's hang-dog look. Still, there's a
pop-psych hilarity to his thoughts, drolly voiced by Samm Hodges.
Allison Tolman (“Fargo”) leads a splendid cast, with Lucas Neff
(“Raising Hope”) as her sometimes-boyfriend.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

This season is
stuffed with noise, rage and great music. It wraps up with a two-week
clash of titans.

At stake is the
record label's Las Vegas incursion. Giuliana (Nia Long) is now in
control; Cookie, who has been banned, assembles a team to steal a
secret weapon. In the middle is Lucious, ready to release his
“Inferno” album; his son Jamal is encouraged to delay his own
album, to avoid competiton.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Designated Survivor” season-finale, 10 p.m., ABC,
and more.

For the second
straight night, ABC fills its line-up with finales. With one
exception -- “Black-ish” ended last week, to give “Downward
Dog” its chance – all of its Wednesday shows wrap up tonight.

That's key for this
high-stakes drama. Things began with an attack that left only an
obscure Cabinet member (Kiefer Sutherland) alive; now he's president
and ordering a massive search for the mastermind. Meanwhile, FBI
agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) scrambles to prevent a final attack.

Other choices
include:

“Brockmire,”
6:30-10:32 p.m., IFC. Here's the entire season in one gulp. It starts
with a sportscaster's funny downfall and ends with a new episode (10
p.m.), giving him a fresh shot at the big leagues.

“Shots Fired,” 8
p.m., Fox. We're a week from the finale of what has slowly become a
deeply layered drama. A discovery about the “auxiliary deputy”
program puts the focus sharply on the sheriff and his lieutenant
(Stephen Moyer). Potential culprits negotiate with Preston and with
Ashe ... who also gets a ruling on her custody case. And the governor
(Helen Hunt) makes a key decision.

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's the season-finale for this show (Jane faces an
uncertain future) and, at 10 p.m., for NBC's “Chicago P.D.”
(Markie Post plays Lindsay's mom, a murder suspect).

“Speechless”
season-finale, 8:30, ABC. It's time for JJ's summer camp. His brother
sees that as a chance to re-invent himself; their sister gets some
father/daughter bonding.

“Modern Family”
season-finale, 9 p.m., ABC. It's graduation day for Luke and Manny,
with lots of complications ... including Manny's dad (Benjamin Bratt)
taking him out for a wild night.

“Criminal Minds:
Beyond Borders” season-finale, 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. These missions
sweep the team around the world. First is Nepal, where a woman was
killed during a yoga retreat; it's Monty's first field mission, Then
is Russia, where an American ballerina has been kidnapped.

“Fargo,” 10
p.m., FX. Last week – alongside all the wonderful and bizarre
detours – Gloria and her deputy started putting things together:
Both crimes (the murder, the hit-and-run) involved people named
Stussy. Meanwhile, Ray Stussy – newly fired from his parole-officer
job – launches his latest counter-attack against his brother Emmit
(both played by Ewan McGregor).

TV column for Tuesday, May 16


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“American Epic” debut, 9 p.m., PBS.

When radio stations
emerged in the cities, record companies scrambled to find music that
would sell in rural areas. Soon, gifted musicians in Appalachia and
the South were being recorded. “A lot of their songs have changed
the world,” musician Jack White says here.

The Carter Family
travelled all day to reach scouts in Bristol, Tenn. The result was
“the big bang” of country music, Johnny Cash (a Carter
son-in-law) once said. That story and others launch a terrific,
three-week series, one that is rich in old films, old sounds and
deeply human details.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Wildly erratic –
and sometimes wildly funny -- “Nine-Nine” puts manages to put
together two excellent episodes. The first has Captain Holt's mom –
a judge, as imperious and impassive as he is – as victim. The
second has Jake and Rosa competing for the favor of an undercover
powerhouse (Gina Gershon).

There are some great
moments – especially when Jake claims to be a hot motorcyle guy –
littered with detours. The Amy stories are so-so, but there's a good
one with the oft-ignored Scully and Hitchcock.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Genius,” 9 p.m., National Geographic.

Here is a pivotal
episode, one that ends with that single, definitive word -- “genius.”
Albert Einstein is 26, working 60 hours a week in a patent office
while his mind races toward inventions. His brilliant wife Mileva
helps – while struggling to care for their baby; somehow, they
create historic theories.

This is a difficult
relationship; in comparison, we see the smooth one of Marie and
Pierre Curie. At times overwrought, this hour still has a great story
and, in Kevin Hooks, a gifted director.

AND ALL NIGHT ...:
“The Middle” season-finale and more, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

This is a night
stuffed with finales – one (“Chicago Fire”) on NBC ... two
“NCIS” tales on CBS ... and the entire linep-up – four comedies
and “Agents of SHIELD” -- on ABC.

The quality for some
ABC shows may vary, but “Middle” is consistently good. Last week,
Axl graduated from college (barely); now he wants to spend the summer
in Europe. His mom loves the idea; his dad thinks he should be
looking for a job. Meanwhile, his siblings face smaller crises.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS”
season-finale, 8 p.m., CBS. A Navy SEAL has disappeared during an
unauthorized trip. Now Gibbs, McGee and Torres must go to a remote
region of Paraguay that's controlled by violent rebels.

“American
Housewife” season-finale, 8:30, ABC. A great way to get out of
volunteer work at school is to have a fake pregnancy. After all, what
could go wrong?

“Prison Break,”
9 p.m., Fox. The good news is that Sara finally gets an explanation
for why her late husband is no longer dead. Te bad: Like most things
on this show, that explanation is far-fetched. The “Prison Break”
style involves crises so extreme that there's no satisfying way to
overcome them; fortunately, it also involves enough high-voltage
filming to let us semi-forgive this.

“Great News,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., NBC. With its big, broad style, “News” varies
wildly in quality ... as we see tonight. The first episode, involving
Chuck's secret, is a delight; it leads to a massive mix-up that's
hilarious. The second one twists the newsgathering process in bizarre
and semi-funny ways.

“Chicago Fire”
season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC. A warehouse fire puts everyone at
risk.Meanwhile, Dawson and Casey agree that her dad has outstayed his
welcome. Also, two Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta, play
themselves.

“NCIS: New
Orleans” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS. As the mayor's dark scheme
gains ground, there's no way to tell which local people can be
trusted. The team brings in Isler, the FBI assistant director.